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Basketball philosophy

Is Portland a threat to sign Kevin Durant in 2016?

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9 years after passing on him for Greg Oden and after a history of bad breaks since their 1977 title, it would be a great story if Kevin Durant signed with the Portland Trailblazers in 2016.

Portland has been rarely listed as a possibility for Durant’s free agency. Portland isn’t known as as a big enough market to be a free agent destination. His hometown Washington has become a popular Durant free agency talking point. There’s also the likelihood Portland will have Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge on max contracts and Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez both making over 10 million a year by 2016. This makes them a less obvious fit capspace wise even though Nicolas Batum’s contract expires that summer.

Here’s my retort to each of those problems:

Portland as a free agency destination

Portland’s lack of free agent history doesn’t bother me because from an outside perspective it appears Durant doesn’t care about the size of his market. Durant is already swimming in endorsement deals and fame playing in Oklahoma City. We just saw Kevin Love spurn the Lakers but embrace playing in Cleveland because he wanted to win. I’m guessing the competitive Durant has the same mentality: It’s all about winning. If he leaves Oklahoma City after 9 seasons my money is on it’ll be because he has more faith winning championships and enchancing his legacy elsewhere.

Washington: A red herring?

I’m strongly against the odds of Durant leaving the Thunder for Washington for this reason. Does Washington provide a better opportunity to win than Oklahoma City? Washington has a star PG and competent defensive big men but so do the Thunder. Washington’s coaching and management in Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld do not have a more trustworthy history than Scott Brooks and Sam Presti. Durant’s sentimental attachment to his hometown may still pale to the sentimental attachment to staying with the team that drafted him. Washington would need Bradley Beal to become more of a 3rd star than Serge Ibaka to really sell Durant that Washington is a “talent upgrade” in my opinion, but Beal’s 3rd season has been barely more productive than Jeremy Lamb’s. Some argue the move from the West to the East in competition could help sell Durant on switching. But the main difference between the West and the East is likely to come in the first 2 rounds which Oklahoma City hasn’t struggled with anyways by making the conference Finals the last three years Russell Westbrook was healthy. In the conference finals and Finals you play 1 West team and 1 East team to win the title no matter which side you are on so I don’t buy conferences are a major swinging factor by that point. Furthermore with teams like Cleveland and Chicago in the East and up and coming teams like Toronto who could be dangerous by 2016-2017, making the Finals in the East would not be a cakewalk.

What I like about Portland’s case is they conceivable *could* provide that elusive talent upgrade. Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge are two other true perennial all-stars compared to one in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook. If they can keep Wesley Matthews this also gives them an excellent starting shooting guard who fits perfectly on a team with other stars. A case can be made Matthews is as valuable at SG as Serge Ibaka is for a PF. Terry Stotts is also a coach of the year contender and appears to be ahead of the ball more than Scott Brooks in terms of offensive creativity. A team headlined by Lillard, Matthews, Durant and Aldridge with Stotts coaching could conceivably be enough of an upgrade over Oklahoma City to draw Durant’s attention.

Salary cap problems

Now a big retort to Portland is how getting Durant would work under the cap. While Portland currently has all but nothing signed after 2016 it’s a no brainer Aldridge and Lillard will have max deals by then. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are unrestricted free agents this summer and should easily clear over 20 million a year combined if they both resign. Portland is contending now and most likely won’t let either go for a longshot chance at Durant.

Their saving grace is the upcoming TV deal where capspace is expected to rocket in 2016. This doesn’t mean Portland will have enough capspace to have all of Lillard, Aldridge, Matthews, Lopez on the books and still sign Durant. But consider what will happen in the rest of the league in 2016. There will be a massive oversupply of capspace compared to quality free agents available. Even in a non-TV deal year teams who expected to hit it big in free agency strike out and are forced to overpay whichever free agent is left. In 2016 the prices for the available free agents could be a ridiculous bidding war.

What this also means is sharp teams could end up seeing a more appealing alternative: Using capspace to trade for players with expensive contracts. This allows them to take on contracts that were signed in the pre-TV deal era and many of these contracts would only have an affordable 2-3 years left.

Because salaries will be so liquid a case can be made Kevin Durant could sign on virtually any team in the league. For example say Durant wanted to sign with the L.A. Clippers but they are blocked by a new Deandre Jordan contract at over 12 million a year, plus Spencer Hawes and JJ Redick’s mid-level deals. The Clippers in this situation may find it very easy to dump Jordan, Hawes and Redick to teams who have tens of millions in capspace but are garnering no free agent interest. Just as Houston this summer managed to move Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin’s contracts relatively easily to make room for Chris Bosh if he had chosen to sign there. I suspect that only the worst NBA contracts will be unmovable in 2016 considering the amount of excess capspace that teams will have. Even for the ones just over the line of untradeable, throwing in a 1st round pick could help grease the wheels to move a contract.

I suspect in 2016 Portland could simply move however many non-Lillard or Aldridge contracts they need to make space for Durant, such as trading Robin Lopez or an MLE signing made in the summer 2015 to bolster their depth to a team with capspace. I haven’t checked the math close enough to see if keeping Wes Matthews along with Lillard and Aldridge and signing Durant at the same time is possible but if push comes to shove, moving Matthews to make room for Durant is still a no-brainer. All in all for teams like the Blazers, Clippers and Rockets I don’t see the salary cap getting in the way of signing Kevin Durant. The real race for Durant is to see who can offer him the best chance of winning a championship after 2016 if he doesn’t have one by then. If he feels Oklahoma City’s chance from 2016 on is as good as anyone else’s I doubt he leaves. If Portland’s supporting looks more dynamic by then, I would treat them as a big a threat as anyone.

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Written by jr.

December 27, 2014 at 8:56 pm

One Response

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  1. I’m not sure about the logic you’re using to argue he should stay in the west. The probability of getting upset in the West is significantly higher in the earlier.

    The last two years are good examples. Even without Westbrook, the Thunder probably would have made the conference finals in the east, and last year they came pretty close to being upset in the first round despite perfect health.

    If Durant finds a way to have a team as talented as the Thunder in the East, he’s got to jump in it. It becomes significantly easier for him to advance to later rounds.

    Mike

    January 3, 2015 at 1:53 pm


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